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THE FORMATION OF ATMAVIDYA SANGHAM IN 1917

was a year that marked an age end in world history. It was in this year that a great revolution under the leadership of Lenin took place in Soviet Russia and a Socialist government was formed for the first time in the world, within the Tzarist rule. No doubt the theory of Karl Marx is the materialistic thought scheme for the liberation of mankind. Vagbhatananda envisaged that if this theory imbibed the spirit of Advaita Vedanta and started attempts to put it into practice building up a world of equality based on morality would be possible. It was to be done not from the ivory tower of Vedanta but by coming down to common people. This conviction led Gurudeva to the decision to form an organization for fulfilling the aim. This too was in the year 1917. Meanwhile Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vivekananda, Annie Besant etc, with their spiritual teachings, were trying to liberate people from the clutches of superstitious traditions and were leading them to the path of self knowledge. It was after close observation and study of the movements of Sreenarayana Guru and Ram Mohan Roy, organizations ie Brahma Samajam and Rama Krishna Mission and services of Chattampi Swamikal that Vagbhatananda formed his organization called ‘Atma Vidya Sangham’. There is nothing that has to be seen, heard or thought of except Atma. This invaluable finding of the Rishis of India is the spirit of the message that sangham proclaims.

Atmava!are! drashtavya: strotavyo mantavyo:
Nidhidhyasitavya:” (Brihadaranyakopanishad)

Gurudeva insisted on fighting injustice in the same way as he strove for the spiritual upliftment of the society. The Sangham mainly aimed at liberating the down trodden from the suppressions caused by the savarna domination and at giving them a decent human life. It was at Karakkat (Now known as Nadapuram Road) in Vatakara taluk of Kozhikode district that the formation and first meeting of Sangham took place in 1917. Vagbhatananda exhorted that the fundamental principle of all religions was the same and that it was the outdated conventions and rituals that caused all conflicts. Branches of Sangham were formed in different parts of Kerala.

When Sangham progressed and became influential with its effective work the conservative Hindus started protesting. They were revengeful and first they denied labour to the workers of Sangham and thus caused to them economic hardships. Denial of admission to students of Sangham workers, to schools run by savarna heads was another way of revenge. To face these challenges a financial institution namely ‘Aikya Nanaya Sangham’ was started in Karakkad for those who were in economic crises and “Ooralunkal koolivelakkarute Paraspara Sahaya Sahakarana Sangham” was formed for those who were denied labour – all with the blessings of Gurudeva. These societies came into existence in 1922 and in 1925 respectively. For students who were denied education Sangham started “Karakkad Atmavidya Sangham LP School” in 1926. The two societies mentioned have developed so much that they have now become the well known Ooralunkal labour Contract Co.operative Society and Ooralunkal Service Sahakarana Bank. Besides, new schools for children were opened, as directed by Gurudeva. Atma vidya Sangham U. P. School at Cheruvanur in calicut and Atmavidya Sangham L P school at kaattil Market in Karthikappalli Taluk of Alleppey distict are two examples. The upliftment of those who belonged to the low castes, and of the suppressed was Gurudeva’s objective in founding schools. He wanted them to be well equipped with weapon of knowledge. “When injustice is, and when you are present you should not rest. Fight to the least”. It was as a means for fighting injustice that education was encouraged.

The Sangham of Malabar was known as “Samasta Malabar Atma vidya Sangham”. The headquarters of Sangham was ‘Karaparamba’ in Kozhikode. The patron of Samasta Malabar Atmavidya Sangham was Kalyat Koodali Chandukutty Nambiar. Consequently the Sangham and its activities spread to Travancore also. It was middle Travancore that became the strong field of Sangham work. The movement made special progress in Alleppey district. In middle Travancore area 43 branches of Sangham were registered and they all started work. In Malabar area too the same number of branches began to work. Travancore and Malabar got united and the organization thereafter came to be known as ‘Kerala Atma Vidya Sangham’. While the organisation for the state is known as Kerala Atma vidya Sangham every branch of it is known with the name of the place where it works. As mentioned earlier a magazine for propagating the message of Atma Vidya Sangham was an urgent necessity. Hence ‘Abhinava Keralam’ came to be published 1921 onwards. The permanent editorial message of it was ‘Unaruvinakhilesane smarippin

‘Kshanamezhunelpin aneethiyotethirppin’

Inter dining with different communities, with Harijans in particular, prohibition and eradication of wrong conventions were the main items in the programme of Sangham. Strong steps were taken for removing evil practices, especially of the low castes and of the down trodden. Ettumattu practices that grew in connection with marriage procedures and funeral rituals deteriorated into more and more irrational observances. So many poor families were thrown into debt crises owing to these social curses. Some of these were refined in tune with progressive outlook of a reformed society and some were stopped totally. Thalikettu Kalyanam and Thirantukuli were two of the evils that were thus totally abolished. Marriage procedure was cut short in order to avoid unnecessary and expensive items. Funeral ceremonies, and ‘Pula’ observed for two weeks were found wrong. The conviction led to the simplification of observances and ultimately to the limitation of the same to recital of prayers. Vagbhatananda indeed proved that such changes are possible among Hindus. He led marches in which participation of Harijans was ensured. This was in protest against denial of right to walk on public roads. The regaining of this right was the result of such protests. The stopping of animal sacrifices in temple yards was also a great objective that the Sangham fought for.

Vagbhatananda raised vehement protest not only against animal sacrifices but many other evils as well. Some such evils were Kolamthullal, Theyyattam, idolatry and black magic that prevailed in temples. Vagbhatananda’s protests against all these came mainly through his magazine ‘Sivayogivilasam’. Besides, temple premises were the fertile ground for evils like untouchability, theendal, and casteism, of which the first two were the outcomes. It was from temples that these evils spread to life of individual and to that of society. Temples became the places where equality as well as brotherhood was forbidden. They were really centres of Brahmmic pries thood and this was the chief reason for Vagbhatananda’s protest against temples. Being a staunch believer in God and a non dualist (Advaiti) he could convince his followers and all who were unprejudiced that neither temples nor idolatry had any place in Advaita theory. Prayers and meditation based on belief in one God were introduced as the way of worship of Atmavidya Sangham.

In North Malabar great personalities who came forward as the active exponents of Sangham were pullancheri Illath valiya Madhavan Namboodirippad, Madhusoodanan Thangal of Mattannur, Kallyatt Thazhath Chathukutty Nambiar, Koodali Thazhath Kunhikannan Nambiar, leading advocate K T Chandu Nambiar, K M K Nair, K P Raghavan Nair, V P Narayanan Nambiar, Kadathanatt Madhavi Amma and Panakkal Raghavan. In Travancore, Kochi areas Kalavara Narayana Pillai, Thoppil Sankara Pillai, Samudayathil Madhavanunnithan, Kainikkara M Padmanabha Pillai, Ambalappuzha Azhikkakath Anti Arachan and many other prominent persons became disciples of Gurudeva as well as field workers of the Sangham. The role that Swami Aryabhatan, Swami Samantha Bhadran, and Swami Brahmavratan — the outstanding disciples of Gurudeva — played as the spokesmen of Atmavidya is invaluable.